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Nationals scout Soler, Rivero in Dominican

Center fielder Yoenis Cespedes wasn’t the only player the Nationals were scouting in the Dominican Republic this week.

According to a baseball source, general manager Mike Rizzo was also scouting outfielder Jorge Soler, 19, and right-hander Armando Rivero, 23. Both players are from Cuba and expected to become free agents sometime this offseason.

Phillies keep Schneider with one-year deal

The Phillies are bringing back Brian Schneider for another season as their backup catcher.

The club announced on Thursday that it had signed Schneider to a one-year, $800,000 contract. The deal contains $200,000 worth of incentives.

Schneider, 34, hit .176 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 41 games this past season. But he worked well with Phils pitchers, most notably rookie right-hander Vance Worley. Philadelphia pitchers posted a 2.85 ERA with Schneider behind the plate.

Phillips, Reds progressing on extension talks

Always a prolific user of Twitter, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips mentioned Wednesday he hoped to learn about his future with the club, and then on Thursday, stated he was flying to Cincinnati from his hometown in Atlanta.

None of that equated, however, to a deal being done. A contract extension between Phillips and Cincinnati is not imminent. General manager Walt Jocketty and Phillips’ agents did spend time negotiating during the General Managers Meetings this week in Milwaukee.

“We’ve made progress, but we’re not close,” Jocketty said Thursday from the airport as he prepared to fly back to Cincinnati. “It will take a little bit of time. It’s a complicated contract.”

Cherington, Ortiz’s agents have ‘good dialogue’

Though it doesn’t appear Ben Cherington will complete any transactions before the end of the General Mangers Meetings, he did make some headway in several areas, including negotiations with free-agent slugger David Ortiz.

“I talked to David’s agents since I’ve been here at the GM meetings,” Cherington said. “I think there’s a pretty good understanding of where both sides are. We’re just not at the same point yet, but there’s a pretty good understanding of where everyone is.”

While Jonathan Papelbon, Boston’s other marquee free agent, swiftly moved on to Philadelphia, there seems to be motivation from both sides to keep Ortiz in a Red Sox uniform.

Rollins up next in Brewers’ shortstop search

If you’re a free-agent shortstop, then the Brewers are interested.

While sitting in a holding pattern at first base that’s likely to continue until Prince Fielder picks a new team, the Brewers have been among the most active clubs on the shortstop market, meeting or otherwise touching base with the agents for all of the available prominent players. General manager Doug Melvin spoke via telephone in recent weeks with the representative for Jose Reyes, who the Brewers conceded is almost certainly out of their price range, and for Yuniesky Betancourt, who was made a free agent when the Brewers declined his option. The door remains open to Betancourt returning.

Melvin then met personally at the Pfister Hotel during the General Managers Meetings with the agent for Rafael Furcal on Monday and the agent for Clint Barmes on Wednesday.

Cardinals GM says reported Pujols deal untrue

Right on schedule, things are picking up in the saga of Albert Pujols.

Pujols’ representatives reportedly met with the Cardinals on Tuesday night during baseball’s annual General Managers Meetings in Milwaukee, a few days after Pujols’ camp visited the Miami Marlins. Meanwhile, one St. Louis media member tweeted that an announcement of a deal between Pujols and the Cardinals was imminent, but the club immediately shot that down.

Cuban Stars: Cespedes, others to hit free-agent market

The free-agent market will receive a boost when a large group of players from Cuba become eligible to sign with Major League clubs before the end of the year.

Outfielders Yoennis Cespedes, 26, and Jorge Soler, 19, along with right-handed pitcher Armando Rivero, 23, all participated in showcases last week in the Dominican Republic and highlight a list of Cuban players that could show up on big league rosters next season.

It’s uncertain when they will become free agents, because they are in the process of becoming eligible to play in the United States. What’s certain is that, for the third consecutive year, several players from Cuba are creating a buzz in the industry.

Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman is arguably the most recognizable name among the new crop of players from the island, and the Reds made a splash when they signed the hard-throwing left-hander to a six-year $30.25 million deal in January 2010. But Chapman is only a small part of a large group of the recently signed Cubans.

Three months after Chapman, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the Blue Jays. Pitcher Yunesky Maya signed a four-year, $8 million deal with the Nationals that July.

Before the start of the 2009 season, Dayan Viciedo signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the White Sox, and shortstop Jose Iglesias signed a four-year, $8.25 million contract with the Red Sox near the end of the season.

Only Hechavarria, who finished last season at Triple-A for Toronto, has not appeared in the big leagues, but he appears on track to make his debut in 2012.

“The players are seeing the success their fellow countrymen are having, and they’re enticed to test themselves in this market,” said agent Bart Hernandez, who represents several Cuban players, including Martin, Hechavarria and Maya. “Players in Cuba are judging themselves right now and realizing they have comparable or equal skills to the guys signing, and they are deciding to take their chances.”

It’s too early to tell what type of contracts Cespedes, Soler and Rivero will command, but there’s no denying the interest by Major League clubs.

Cespedes, who is represented by agent Adam Katz, wowed scouts during his showcase in Santiago and is scheduled for a workout with the Marlins this week. According to Yahoo.com, Washington, Oakland, Cleveland, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the New York Yankees had representatives at Cespedes’ showcase.

Boston, Texas and Toronto are also reportedly interested in the five-tool outfielder who many believe is Major League-ready. Cespedes played for Cuba during the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

As for Soler, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound corner outfielder, showed off his power and speed in front of several scouts in a separate showcase with Rivero at the Yankees’ complex in Boca Chica. Rivero, who is 6-foot-3, features a slider, split-finger fastball, sinker and changeup in his repertoire. He reached 98 mph with his fastball in the showcase.

Outfielders Henry Urrutia, 24, Gerald Sanchez, 26, and left-handed pitcher Omar Luis, 19, all from Cuba, also took part in the showcase in Boca Chica.

“The talent has always been in Cuba, but obviously the political climate had an impact on the number of players playing in the Major Leagues,” Hernandez said. “Most of the Latin players in the Major Leagues used to be Cuban and teams used to send their players to Cuba for Winter League. The history is there and I think you are starting to see the future.”

– Jesse Sanchez

The road continues for Rhodes, Dotel

Free-agent relievers Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes have finally added a World Series championship to their resumes but neither is ready to call it quits. Both could return to the Cardinals next year on one-year deals.

During the World Series, Rhodes, 42, said he wanted to pitch in St. Louis for at least one more season before retiring and he could get his wish.

The left-handed specialist went 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA for the Cardinals during the regular season and didn’t allow a hit in eight appearances during the postseason. The veteran started the season with Texas and signed with St. Louis on Aug. 11 after the Rangers released him.

As for Dotel, 37, he went 3-3 with 3.28 ERA during the regular season in 29 games for the Cardinals and 2-1 with a 2.61 ERA in 12 games during the postseason. He was acquired by the Cardinals from the Blue Jays in late July.

On Tuesday, the Cardinals declined Dotel’s $3.5 million option for 2012.

On Friday, Beverly Hills Sport Council’s Dan Horwits, who represents Dotel and Rhodes, said he’s had preliminary discussions with the Cardinals regarding a deal for Dotel but is still exploring all options for both pitchers for next season.

-Jesse Sanchez

Grady Sizemore: Sizing up the Market

Free-agent outfielder Grady Sizemore expects to be completely healthy by the start of Spring Training and is keeping his options open for 2012.

On Monday, the Indians announced they were declining Sizemore’s $9 million option for 2012, instead choosing to pay the $500,000 buyout. On Thursday, Sizemore’s agent, Joe Urbon, said the interest in his client’s services is best described as “steady” and he has heard from a number of clubs.

Urbon declined to name the clubs that have inquired or the parameters of a deal Sizemore is seeking. He added that there is not a timetable for a decision.

Sizemore has been mentioned in reports as a possible target for Washington, San Francisco and Milwaukee, among other teams.

“The minute they chose not to exercise the option we informed Grady that we will find the best opportunity to allow him to show his health and that he is the elite player that everyone was used to seeing from 2005 to 2008,” said Urbon, co-head of CAA Baseball. “It’s rare for a two-time Gold Glove winner to have the power and ability to produce like a corner outfielder. It’s rare and rarely exists.”

One option for Sizemore could be shifting from center field to left or right if it’s the right fit. He could also seek a one-year incentive-based deal that would make him a free agent at the end of the 2012 season. Sizemore might believe his value will increase for the ’13 season with improved health and full season under his belt.

One thing is certain: Sizemore will be ready and looking to rebound. He hit .224 with 10 homers, 21 doubles and 32 RBIs in 71 games for Cleveland this past season and has not played a full season since 2008.

He has had two knee surgeries — one on each knee — in the last year and a half, including microfracture surgery on his left knee last year. He also suffered a sports hernia and a right knee injury. He is recovering from an Oct. 3 arthroscopic procedure on his right knee, which had a bone bruise and was part of the reason he was off the field for most of the second half of the season.

“The microfracture is not an issue,” Urbon said. “He’s as structurally as sound as you can be, and nothing he has suffered is chronic. He missed parts of three years. I’m not going to dismiss health, nor should it be, but it will all be cleared up by due diligence.”

As of Monday, the Indians had not ruled out Sizemore’s return to Cleveland.

“We will still stay in touch with his representatives and Grady throughout the offseason and remain hopeful he will remain part of this organization,” Indians GM Chris Antonetti said. “I think both parties remain open-minded to continuing the relationship. It’s just not at the option value.”

- Jesse Sanchez

 

Doug Davis signs Minor League deal with White Sox

Doug Davis, 35, has signed a Minor League deal with the White Sox and is headed to Triple-A Charlotte, according to an industry source.  He is expected to provide depth to the rotation at the Minor League level.

The veteran left-hander signed as a free agent with the Cubs in April and was released June 29 by the club after going 1-7 with a 6.50 ERA in nine starts.

For his career, Davis is 92-108 with a 4.44 in parts of 13 big league seasons with the Rangers, Brewers, Blue Jays, D-backs and Cubs. He’s won at least 10 games in a season five times, including a career-high 13 victories for the D-backs in 2007.

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